As a farmer with many tasks that need to be done quickly when weather permits, too often I miss Sunday services. Is it better for me to sit in church and think about my hay, or for me to sit on a load of hay and think about the Lord?
This sort of question confronts many people—not only farmers but those in other professions as well. Consider doctors. Should they go to church and think about patients in need of emergency treatments, or should they go ahead and perform these procedures and think about the Lord, in whose hands both patients and doctors are held?
Although some situations obviously are more crucial than others, the same principles are involved when deciding between two courses of action. What really is at play here are the motive and orientation of the person involved—that is, whether the person is living under the Law or Gospel.
The response of Jesus to the Pharisees on several occasions is helpful in arriving at a good decision. Mark 2 tells of Jesus and His disciples walking through a field of grain on the Sabbath. When some of the disciples pick heads of wheat and eat the grain, the Pharisees are incensed. They see this as work, an unlawful act on the Sabbath. Jesus reminds the Pharisees of the time when King David and his hungry men entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which only the priests were permitted to eat. “The Sabbath was made for man,” says Jesus, “not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
In Luke 6, the Pharisees are poised to criticize Jesus if He heals a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath. Jesus does heal it, but before doing so He says: “I ask you which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or destroy it?” The Pharisees, who place ultimate importance on the letter of the Law, have no answer. This infuriates them, and thus begin the first steps toward the goal of crucifying Jesus.
It is clear that the answer to our farmer’s question depends on whether one sees his relationship with God as being dependent on keeping the Law or on the work of Christ, who kept the Law on our behalf and suffered the consequences for our failure to do so. It is this relationship—the Christ-based one—that informs our decisions when we face such questions as making hay or saving a life when the church bells ring.
Send your questions to “Q&A,” c/o The Lutheran Witness, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295. Please include your name and address. All questions will be considered, but none can be answered individually.